Tuesday, 13 March 2012

I'm Anything But Middle Class

I'd watched some of Melvyn Bragg's recent series about class and culture when a friend posted Blossom Dearie's rendition of 'I'm Hip' on FB - it was new to me - the line 'I am anything but middle class' stood out, naturally. Frishberg and Dorough penned a sharp parody of hipsterism in the 60s. Even in America, a country supposedly less obsessed with class than the UK, to be middle class was not hip, apparently. The term 'hipster' may be common again in America today but despite having been called one, I'm still not sure what it means.

Class, culture, Hip, unhip - no such thoughts entered our simple country proletariat heads in the 70s when, as a member of the village people, I got the nightlife and fashion bug. But it was evident that there were no middle class kids dancing with us to the strains of Stevie or Rod Stewart. And we didn't give it a thought. I won't be hipping you to anything new when I say that street culture then was purely working class...perhaps it still is, although Melvyn Bragg suggests that more of us are middle now than ever before.

I've been called middle class on a forum, presumably because I displayed certain associated cultural traits. Oh how this prole laughed. Well, a council house-born boy simply cannot be listening to Jazz or Classical music and reading something other than a Rock/sporting biography, surely. Ironically, in relation to Bragg's series, by every definition except culture I am working class. Even my love of football no longer automatically aligns me with the hoi polloi, although not being able to afford to go to games does.

Now whilst I disagree with Bragg's notion that the middle class is a prevailing force in Britain today, definitions do feel increasingly irrelevant, especially online, where old signifiers such as accent, dress sense etc are rendered invisible. And with easy access to all music, perhaps an appreciation of Jazz no longer has class connotations. Not that having to go out and buy records stopped me in the 80s. And if you asked why I evolved from only having strict, class-bound cultural taste, I would not be able to answer. No-one helped me, least of all my parents. I discovered what was out there on the other side of the class barrier by simply being curious; by reading books and watching films which linked to music with links to films and so on.

To shackle culture to class today means embracing the notion that they're still inseparable. To some extent, that's true. Optimists can suggest that Bartok or Bud Powell may well reside in the homes of council estates and tower blocks across Britain, but to support the idea means playing the exception card and ignoring the 'rule', and we can find exceptions to anything. The 'rule' is that proles aren't sophisticated enough to be playing Stockhausen. But they write their own rules, and with the world of culture just a click away, it makes even less sense that they should be so limiting. Still, I know all about the self-imposed limitations of class

Meanwhile, here's Blossom. Note the line about reading Playboy - I guess I must be hip, by 1960s standards anyway....

I'm hip
I'm no square
I'm alert
I'm awake
I'm aware
I am always on the scene
Makin' the rounds
Diggin' the sounds
I read Playboy magazine
'Cause I'm hip
I dig
I'm in step
When it was hip to be hep, I was hep
I don't blow but I'm a fan
Look at me swing
Ring a ding ding
I even call my girlfriend man
I'm so hip
Every Saturday night
With my suit buttoned tight
And my suedes on
I'm gettin' my kicks
Watching arty French flicks
With my shades on
I'm too much
I'm a gas
I am anything but middle class
When I hang around the band
Poppin' my thumbs
Diggin' the drums
Squares don't seem to understand
Why I flip
They're not hip
Like I'm hip
I'm hip
I'm alive
I enjoy any joint
Where there's jive
I'm on top of every trend
Look at me go
Bobby Darrin knows my friend
I'm so hip
I'm hip
But not weird
Like, you notice, I don't wear a beard
Beards were in but now they're out
They had they're day
Now they're passe
Just ask me if you're in doubt
Cause I'm hip
Now whatever the fads
And whatever the ads
Say is neatsville
I'll be keeping abreast
Out in front of the rest with elitesville
'Cuz I'm cool as a cuke
I'm a cat,
I'm a card
I'm a kook
I get so much out of life
Really, I do
One more time play Mack the Knife
Let 'er rip
I may flip
but I'm hip
I'm hip
I'm hip

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